Wednesday, November 2, 2016


By Juan Montoya
Next time you're in downtown Brownsville and find yourself near the corner of Madison Street and 14th Street, look at the house on the northeast side.
It is across the street from the new Cueto Building parking lot used by UTB now.
We had a friend who related an experience he had just recently that set him thinking.

We have all heard of the apparition of ghosts across International Boulevard at Texas Southmost College. The late Yolanda Gonzales used to tell of janitors telling her of an old lady dressed in black looking for her son within the walled courtyard of the student union. After she had left, the janitors would wonder how she had managed to climb over the high fences surrounding the courtyard before she disappeared into the darkness.

Our friend said he had spent a night of carousing with some people who are tenants of the house on the corner and that – since it was after 3 a.m. – he had taken up their invitation and crashed in a roll up bed in the covered common area between the house and a building in the back of the property.

The back building used to be some sort of garage that had been converted into apartments. There was no inside toilet and the only bathroom was shared by the dozen or so tenants from the big house and appended one-room apartments.

Just as daybreak approached, our friend woke up and realized he was sleeping in the roofed common area and turned to look at the apartment across the slab. There, standing framed by the door of the apartment, was a kindly-looking middle-aged Hispanic woman. There was nothing unusual about her.

She was dressed in light brown polyester pants and had a light colored flowered blouse. Her stringy hair was dyed ash blonde as many ladies dye theirs in in this area. In other words, a nondescript, everyday appearing lady, one of the many one is apt to meet in the streets of downtown Brownsville.
He looked at her and said good morning.
"Buenos dias, señora," he said.

She walked over close to to where he was on the roll away and answered.
"Bueno dias. Como amaneciste, mijito? (Good morning, how are you, son?")
"Bien, gracias, señora," our friend said he replied.
"Hay, que bueno," she replied and walked back into the door of the small apartment.

He dozed off for another half hour or so and then woke up to see one of the male tenants standing at a distance by the entrance to the roofed common area. He was already holding a 24-ounce can of beer in a brown paper bag. He knew him, our friend said, because he was one of those car washers who plied his wares downtown carrying a plastic paint bucket looking for customers.
"Ya estas pistiando?," he asked him. ("You drinking already?")
"Yeah, the store on the corner starts selling beer at 7 a.m., but since they know me, I can get it at 6:30," he said.

"Hey, bro,' said out friend, "where can I take a pee?"
"Go into my apartment all the way to the corner where the concrete slab ends and you can take a pee in the dirt there," aid the car washer. "No one will bother you."
"But what about the señora who lives there?," asked out friend.
"What señora?," said the other. "I'm the only one who lives there. Go ahead."
Our friend went into the door where he had seen the woman enter and looking around saw only the bed used by the car washer and the usual single-man possessions. At the far end of the corrugated metal building he saw where the cement slab ended ended and the dirt began and he relieved himself.

Once outside, he told the car washer about the lady he had seen and spoke to.
"Aqui espantan," said the other, knowingly. 'They tell me that a doctor used to have a clinic next door where he would treat people who had been shot by the Texas Rangers many years ago. Maybe that was someone looking for one of her relatives."

Needless to say, our friend says he has never gone back anywhere near the house and  avoids being near it when he can.
"I don't know who she was, but I know I talked with her," he asserts. "Maybe she was my guardian angel, one of the good ones. I really don't want to know."

By Juan Montoya
Joe era fornido.
Swarthy and unusually stocky and strong for a Mexican, he stood well over six feet and wore a Emiliano Zapata mustache that made him look a little like Pancho Villa when he wore his broad black hat. His mustache and his goatee had earned him the nickname of “El Chivo,” or Billy Goat from the local denizens.
He often regaled his friends with his exploits of strength, telling them of his exercise regimen which included carrying heavy sections of thick mesquite trunks from one side of his backyard to the other at a full trot.

That was before the sight of the slightly built little boy he met at Juanita’s Mi Tejano Bar sent him cringing home.
As his friends told it, Joe was carousing and socializing at the 1, 2, 3, Lounge one Friday night as he usually did each week. Considered one of the better pool players at the bar, he often spent hours shooting stick with the handful of players – both men and women – on the lone pool table at the rear of the blue-collar congal.

The bar’s owner often left before 6 p.m., and this night was no different. After Javier left, Mati and Gracie took over the bar and except for a few musicians coming and going, the bar was patronized by the usual crowd of regulars.
“Call your shots and no slop allowed,” Joe laid out the basic rules like a mantra to Juan “El Borrado,” before the game began. “Cantaditas y no guevas.”
Ya estas,” Borrado answered. Juan had earned the nickname because he had hazel eyes, a rarity among Mexicans. It was a perfect description which instantly identified him when someone mentioned his name.

As the evening dragged on, Joe was shooting well, often keeping the table for three or four games at a stretch.
“Pour water on him,” said Cami. “Echenle agua. Anda caliente.”
It was past 11 when Chivo sidled up to his friend Gonzalo and stood next to him at the bar. Although there was a stool handy, Chivo – as most patrons at the bar – chose to stand as he drank his beer. With beer at only $1.50, it was one of the few remaining bars with inexpensive brews. That was one of the reasons that although the 1,2,3, Lounge lacked air conditioning in this South Texas town, it was frequented regularly by locals even as the customers freely perspired in the sweltering heat.

“Let’s go to Juanita’s to see if there’s any new blood,” Chivo told Gonzalo. “I’ll spring for the brews. What do you say?”
“What have you heard?” Gonzalo asked. “Is Juanita supposed to have una vieja nueva?”
“That’s what I heard,” Chivo said.
“Yeah, well, that’s what you said about the new girl at Chapa’s, and you remember how that turned out.”
“You still have to bring that up? I told you that she looked good to me in the dark. Anyway, Javier closes here at 12, and Juanita closes at 2. Wanna come?”
“Alright, let’s finish the beers and we’ll go check it out.”

Both friends finished up their beer and wandered out the door. Juanita’s was about two blocks down the street and they decided to walk instead of taking their chances at getting picked up by the local cops waiting in the side streets for a papita DUI.
“It used to be they would just let you drive home and follow you till you got in your driveway,” Gonzalo said. “Nowadays it costs you thousands to deal with it.”
“Not to mention spending the night in jail and having to pay for the tow truck afterward,” Chivo agreed. “Everything’s about money nowadays.”
“A guevo,” Gonzalo said.

They passed several other bars down the street until they spied the familiar horned cow skull that signaled they were near Juanita’s Mi Tejano Bar. A ravishing beauty in her time, age had not much diminished her attractiveness and once in a while Gonzalo would ask her to dance with him to the music from the jukebox. However, for the most part she was circumspect in her treatment of her male clients, fully aware of the petty jealousies and lenguas sueltas of some of the women who hung out in the strip’s tavers.

On this night there was a good crowd, with a few men standing around the pool table set toward the rear by the bathrooms. Along the southern wall, a bunch of women – friends apparently – sat gabbing away seemingly unmindful of the men who were giving them the eye trying to stir some interest.
Chivo and Gonzalo took the table in the space between the pool table and the jukebox. If anyone danced, they used the space between their table and the roof support near the middle of the floor. This vantage point allowed the friends to see the women sitting at the bar and also to see the group of women sitting along the southern wall.

“It’s Esmeralda and her friends,” Gonzalo said. “What about the new girl?” he asked Chivo.
“There she is,” Chivo answered as a lithe, cinnamon-hued woman traversed between the rear table and the jukebox toward the bar.
“Not bad this time,” Gonzalo admitted. “But it looks like she already has plenty of admirers. Good luck.”
Chivo considered this last remark and gave Emeralda’s friends a closer look. One of the women was more mature-looking than the rest. When Esmeralda saw his gaze, she smiled and waved. Chivo stood up and went over to say hello.
“It’s her aunt from Houston,” he told Gonzalo when he returned. “I’m going to send her a beer.”

At about that time Juanita sauntered over looking like a porcelain China doll in a long gown that hugged her slight, but well-defined figure.
“Hola, Chiquitos,” she said as she pecked each Gonzalo and Chivo on the cheek. “How are you tonight?”
“Pretty good,” Juanita, answered Chivo. “Say, why don’t you take that table a beer?”
“You mean the table where Esmeralda is at?” Juanita asked.
“Yeah,” answered Chivo. “And give us two beers, too.”
“I’ll send Rosie,” said Juanita. “Have you guys met her yet.”
“No." answered Gonzalo, “That’s what we came for. Is she still alone?”
“Too late,” said Juanita. “She’s going out with one of the guys back at the table behind the jukebox. But, I’m here. Que mas quieren?”

Juanita went about to make the order and soon Rosie appeared with two beers wrapped with napkins for them. An attractive girl, she served them demurely and only half-answered Chivo when he made the perfunctory pass.
“When are we going to go out?,” Chivo asked her.
“I don’t think my boyfriend would let me,” she answered.
“Well, I’m not jealous,” Chivo replied.

No one was playing at the pool table by now. Esmeralda’s table was near one end. The women – the three younger girls and the aunt – tipped their beers at Chivo and Gonzalo in silent thanks for the beers.
“Let’s play pool so we can get closer,” Chivo told Gonzalo.
“You know I don’t play,” Gonzalo replied.
“Oh, c’mon, back me up. I just want to get closer to Esmeralda’s aunt. Maybe something will happen.”
“Alright,” Gonzalo said reluctantly. “But just one game, no matter who wins.”
“You’re on,” Chivo said, and was digging into his pockets for some quarters as he walked toward the table.

Gonzalo stood up and walked toward the end of the table when the balls came out to rack them up. The men’s bathroom door was about three steps away, and Chivo was going to break from the other end, near the entrance to the women’s bath. Chivo broke and then walked toward the men’s room.
“I’ll be right back,” he said and walked past Gonzalo into the bathroom.
Gonzalo stood at his end of the table waiting for his friend to emerge and sizing up his chances for a shot. He knew Chivo was good, and he had no illusion of winning the game.

Suddenly, his friend emerged with a funny look in his eyes.
“I’m not playing anymore,” he said and threw his pool cue on the table, scattering the billiard balls, and headed toward their table.
“Que onda, bato?” Gonzalo asked, following his friend.
“I’m not playing,” Chivo repeated.
“Why not? Aren’t you the one who wanted to play?” asked Gonzalo.
“El niño told me not to play,” he said soberly.
“What  niño?” asked Gonzalo.
“The kid who came out of the men’s bathroom,” said Chivo. “Didn’t you see him walk out of the bathroom just before I did?”
“I didn’t see anybody come out,” Gonzalo said. “And I was standing right by the door. Are you sure you saw a kid?”

“I was standing in front of the urinal doing my business when I felt a little hand tapping me on the back and I saw this little boy looking at me real seriously,” Chivo said.
“He told me ‘You’re playing pool again, aren’t you?'. I said I was and then he tells me. ‘Don’t play anymore. Don’t play anymore.’ When I turned around after I finished, he was gone. Are you sure you didn’t see him walk out?”
“I didn’t see anybody, I tell you,” Gonzalo answered incredulously. “And I'd know if I had seen a little boy. That’s for sure.”

Both friends left Juanita’s place and headed to their cars at the 1,2,3,  Along the way, they discussed the night’s events. The more Gonzalo asked his friend about the encounter, the more sure he was that his friend was not lying about his experience.
Soon, the story of the boy who appeared in Mi Tejano Lounge was in everyone’s lips, fueled in part by Juanita herself, who saw in the story a reason for people to frequent her bar.
“I wonder what Chivo was smoking that night,” she would laugh as she retold the story.

For a long time, the story was just idle talk among the patrons of local bars. People told it and retold it. Curiously, Joe, who usually didn’t take any guff from anyone, did not deny it.
“I really saw him,” he would assert. “He was a little guy, about 10 or 11 years old.”

Gonzalo told the story one night to Julio Ybarra, an old guy who once owned a bar in the area. When Ybarra heard Gonzalo tell him about the boy, he cocked his head with curiosity.
“So he’s back again, hey?” Ybarra asked.
“What do you mean he’s back again?,” asked Gonzalo.
Ybarra leaned back and sipped thoughtfully on his beer.    

“The place where Juanita’s place is on was once a low-life pool hall,” Ybarra told him. “One time, a mother sent her son to the pool hall to get his father who was addicted to pool. It was almost midnight when the boy got there. He noticed a large crowd gathered at the door and the sounds of sirens approaching. He saw his father lying on the ground with knife sticking out of his chest. Someone had gotten angry because he beat them at pool and stabbed him. He died right there. The family left soon after the father died. For a long time, the boy was seen warning people not to play pool. Looks like your friend Joe had a visit from him again that night.”

By Juan Montoya
Many lifetimes ago I used to work for a county commissioner from the barrio.
Among some of the duties I was asked to perform was community outreach, although we never really gave it a title. When someone got hospitalized, jailed, etc., this particular commissioner made sure that they knew we would do whatever was in our power to to assist the families.

Once in a while we attended funerals, and although it was not considered a political task, it melded in with the rest of our work.
On this particular day, the matriarch of a large Southmost barrio family died suddenly after a short illness. My boss knew the family well and had grown up with them and considered them his friends. He asked if I wanted to accompany him to the rosary (el velorio). I am no fan of funerals , but I tagged along to keep him company.

The rosary was being held at the Treviño Funeral Home on Old Port Isabel Road. When we got there, the parking loot was nearly full almost all the way to the resaca bordering it on the south side. Her many sons and daughters, nieces, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren were there. Some of the kids were munching on pan dulce. Some of the adults sitting in the lobby were drinking coffee and talking about the deceased.

We walked in through the back entrance and greeted some of the people in the lobby before the rosary started. My boss noticed his friends outside the front door and we made our way there through the people. Some men were huddled outside and talking softly among themselves as they tend to do on serious and somber occasions.

We said hello and the oldest son went on to tell us how his mother had takes suddenly ill and within a day or two had died in her sleep. We commiserated with him and his brothers and then my boss asked: "Does your brother in El Paso know she died?"

At that question, his friend looked at him queerly and motioned us to step aside of the larger group.
His brother wasn't really in El Paso, but rather, serving time for a minor drug conviction at the La Tuna Federal Penitentiary, about 12 miles north of the city limits of El Paso on the Texas-New Mexico border.
"I called the prison the day after my mother died and they told me it would be impossible for him to attend her funeral," he said. "But they said that since it was a serious matter they would allow me to speak to him and give him the news.

"When he came on the line I told him I had some bad news.
"Es de la jefa, verdad (It's about Mom, isn't it)?,' he said his brother asked. "Se murio (Did she die)?"
"How did you know," the brother asked.
"Hace dos dias vino a despedirse de mi en la noche(Two nights ago she came to say goodbye)," the brother answered. "Ya sabia, carnal (I already knew, bro)."

A chill went down my spine when I heard that, and shortly thereafter we left.
There are a few lessons I have learned over my nearly six decades on earth, and this is one of them: A mother's love never ends, and not even the grave can stop it. Lover her if she's still here, and treasure her memory if you've lost her. But her love is neverending.

(Ed.'s Note: I have a friend who recently lost his little brother and is having a hard time coping with it. I know only too well how that feels. It's a pain that will always be there, just below the surface of your consciousness. Time may heal all wounds, but some of those lacerations are felt – however imperceptively – forever. Here's for you buddy. Hope it helps. It helped me.)

By Juan Montoya
It was the Fourth of July in 1980 when my friend and I were driving to the cemetery in San Pedro, just upriver from Brownsville.
It was just past mid-moring and the sun was burning. The hot air blowing through the open windows of the pickyp truck. I was going to bury my brother. Frank was driving. He didn't know that it was the day my brother was going to be buried because we had lost touch with each other while I was in southeastern Michigan. I was in Fennville, near Holland, interviewing for a job with the Holland Sentinel. I had left to join my brood, who lived in the Isabella Chippewa Reservation near Mount Pleasant.

Jose Luis had been killed in Houston by his roommates – who then fled to Mexico – on June 25. I had been reached Juy 3 and had flown back in time for his burial on the Fourth in San Pedro.
The reunion with the rest of my family who were already here was heart-wrenching. One look into the eyes of my mother destroyed me. My father sat in the shadows of a large palo blanco alone in his grief. My siblings just cried quietly, disconsolate.

I had been give the use of the pickup truck because the rest of the family was riding with relatives following the hearse. I had turned to my friend Frank so he could drive me to San Pedro because, to be honest, I don't think I would have been able to drive.
Francisco was quiet as we drove along the river, the sounds of firecrackers popping incongruously as we drove along the old military highway in the countryside. Tears streamed silently down my face.
He was my younger brother and only 23 when he was killed.

His murder had been particularly gruesome. Joe was one of those active guys who preferred being outdoors and doing physical work rather than go to college. As migrants, he showed up the older kids at whatever work was performed. He hoed beets faster, picked cherries quicker, and filled the hampers with tomatoes ahead of us.
When he could not find work in Brownsville, he had left for Houston and soon was working for a company that trimmed tree branched off power lines for Houston Lighting and Power. He worked among rough men, people who liked to spar while barbecuing and drinking beer after hours.

To make things worse, since he was fluent in English and they weren't, they had made him the crew leader. We later learned that he had bested them at fisticuffs during some of their off hours parties and that it may have fueled their anger and resentment toward the younger guy who bested them.

I had been the last member of the family to see my brother alive. I had stopped in his apartment on the way to the newspaper job interview to visit. By coincidence, my other younger brother had pulled me aside before I left Brownsville and handed me a .25-caliber Saturday Night special. Even though I had left the Marines and was acquainted with firearms, I had never cared for them and told him I didn't want it. But he insisted for some reason and I put in the trunk of the car when I left just to please him.

When I was in my brother's Houston apartment, I probably met his killers, but to be truthful, I don't remember their faces.
Before I left, I gave him a copy of some of my poems published in a periodical at the community college in Brownsville. Then I tried to force the handgun on him and he refused it, laughing.
"You know I don't like guns," he said.
And so I left and a few days later, in Michigan, I got the word.

When I got home, the house was a somber, mournful place. I was not permitted to see him because the funeral home had ordered a closed casket. Partially it was because of the length in time my brother had died, and partially it was because of the savage knife attack by his two roommates that left his face disfigured. He had been stabbed at least 27 times. My father had been called to pick up his belongings at the apartment and had walked in before the blood was scrubbed from the floor and walls in the mortal struggle he put up against his attackers. He saw the full  aftermath of the carnage,

All of us partially blamed ourselves for not keeping him close to us so that he wouldn't have had to go to Houston.
"I should have told him to come to Corpus with me," sobbed one of my sisters.
"He could have come to Dallas with me," said another.
"I should have insisted on him keeping the gun," I told myself.
That night, I went to bed in the old room he and I shared and found my father crying silently in the dark room. I held his shoulders and cried with him before he left to sleep.
hat night I had a dream. I had always been taught by my parents that I was my brother's keeper. If I came back home in the evening and Luis was not with me, I was made to go back outside and get him. It was my responsibility to look out for him and protect him.

In the dream I was walking toward a dark plain. There were some ruins to my right and in the middle of the plain I could see a funnel of light, like a bright spout, extending from the ground to the clouds. It was a wondrous sight and I looked until I realized that I had come looking for my brother.
"Luis!" I shouted.

As I finished speaking I looked toward the ruins – those of a pyramid – and I saw that there were people there. I met the eyes of my younger sister. When our eyes met, I understood instantly that he was gone and I started turning to walk away, Just then, turning the corner of the ruins, Luis was walking in his usual rolling gait toward me.

I turned and walked blindly away down the dark dirt road from where I had come.
The sound of pounding hooves startled me and as I looked over the dark plain, I saw three large gray horses galloping at full speed at a distance parallel to me. Instinctively, I reached down to grab a rock to scare them away as I would an appproaching dog. I looked down in my hand and saw that I had three shiny round balls of steel – like ball bearings. The horses wheeled toward me and stopped suddenly before I had a chance to scare them with the steel balls.

"Como estas?, Juan" said the middle one in my brother's voice.
I regained my composure at the sound of his voice and told him: "Our parents are really taking it hard, Joe."
The horse reared its head back violently and said: "That's the way it had to be," before the three of them galloped off into the darkness.


Anonymous said...

Great stories. It's nice to hear stories like these and have a frame of reference of the locations. Great job.

Anonymous said...

I saw a momia the other day. She was following Jim Farton around and he called her "Nena."